How to Change IT Culture Without Losing Your Sanity
“…First have a definite, clear, practical ideal–a goal, an objective. Second have the necessary means to achieve your ends–wisdom, money, material, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
VMworld is next week, and as expected we are already starting to see announcements from VMware and its massive partner ecosystem.
This has me thinking a lot about how large organizations choose to adopt new technology, and how it is eventually implemented.
IT culture is strange. It is notoriously risk-adverse (especially in large organizations). Since change always comes with at least some element of risk, the tendency is to recoil from it (at least initially). However the technology that drives and supports this industry is in a nearly constant state of flux. As a result, these two elements seem to be fundamentally opposed to one another. To complicate matters further, it is often difficult to identify what is likely a true shift in the industry over what is simply some new product that a vendor is pushing.
Change does not come easy for organizations.
How then does successfully champion change in an environment where change is the antagonist, the foe, the “Hannibal at the gate?”
I’ve come to believe that the key is in having a faultless perception of your business drivers. Really understand what it is you are trying to improve. And know that your most effective means of affecting change will be to demonstrate something that is ‘faster and cheaper’ and does not compromise on any existing requirements.
In Six Sigma there is a process called OVoC – Observational Voice of the Customer. Essentially it describes directly observing a process or a customer interaction. You are trying to intimately understand the point of view of the customer so that you can more effectively improve the process, or create one that is more ‘user friendly.’ This is similar to the Japanese term ‘Gemba’ (which means “The Real Place”) used in Lean business practices where the idea is to physically observe something (like a shop floor process) in order to improve it.
I believe these tools (or concepts) are the best method for understanding what you business drivers really are. Not what someone says they are. Remember the mantra “Better, Faster, Cheaper” is going to be a constant from anyone in an executive chair. Your best chance for affecting change is to gather executive sponsorship by demonstrating a solution – a change – that is truly better, faster, and cheaper.
Your main challenge at this point will be in getting your peers to actually listen to you (and take you seriously). This one is as critical as it is complex. IT veterans will always be the biggest obstacle to adopting new ideas and concepts. The cliche, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink” is very fitting here. It is not possible to convince someone simply by proselytizeing. They need to convince themselves. Your responsibility is to help provide education, not just simply advocate. Argue your point sure, but don’t expect to win people over by ‘selling’ something. You need to prove it.
You also need to genuinely understand it. Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself.”
Lastly keep in mind that true change happens slowly. Frustratingly slowly. And there will be no shortage of detractors. But this is actually a positive thing. Concepts that survive detraction and doubt prove themselves as not only viable but substantial.